I’ve taught my last class here. I always try to wrap the semester by getting feedback from my students about the semester, about school in general, and about their lives. It’s one of my favorite days of the semester, not just because its the last, but we get to reflect on our short but intense relationship, and for whatever reason, nostalgia, perhaps, we open up to each other. This one was particularly special because I am not coming back here. I usually take comfort in the fact that I will be returning the next semester with the opportunity to see many of my students again, either by design or by happenstance. But not this time. I try to impart some words of advice, but am even hesitant to call it advice. For what do I know? Observations is a better word. So, what follows are some observations I’ve had of late.
I have a hard time remembering much of my childhood. And while it’s easy to chalk this up to aging, I suspect it is something a little more sinister than that. Perhaps sinister is a strong word. Certainly my intentions at the time weren’t sinister, I had my own best intentions, but we aren’t always in control of them. You see, when I was in high school I yearned to no longer be a teenager. I wanted to get to college. Once I got to college, I wanted to get to the next party. Find the next girl who would kiss me or sleep with me. Then as college ended, I had a girlfriend, but I was anxious to leave college, and start the next big thing. I kept focusing on the future, what’s next, what’s next. I desperately wanted to leave my childhood behind. And so I forgot it.
What I’ve learned is that our society is constantly telling us to find the next big thing, move on to the next project. There’s this superficial focus on our individual futures, and too it comes at the expense of not only our relationships with others, but with our own pasts, even our presents. We no longe want to put the work in now. We should have what we want tomorrow immediately. There’s no sense of what we need to do now in order to get to that future we imagine so intensely. Abraham Lincoln said, “The best thing about the future is that it only comes one day at a time.”
Do not misinterpret me. I think it is extremely important to imagine the future. Imagining the future is what has brought us space travel, cures for diseases, the Internets, great works of art, almost any sort of advancement. But these advancements, despite relying on the ability to imagine the future, require us to do the work now. And in order to do the work now, we must know about the work that came before us. We must know who we were, then we can know who we are, and then we know who we potentially can be.
From The Long Now:
There is a Clock ringing deep inside a mountain. It is a huge Clock, hundreds of feet tall, designed to tick for 10,000 years. Every once in a while the bells of this buried Clock play a melody. Each time the chimes ring, it’s a melody the Clock has never played before. The Clock’s chimes have been programmed to not repeat themselves for 10,000 years. Most times the Clock rings when a visitor has wound it, but the Clock hoards energy from a different source and occasionally it will ring itself when no one is around to hear it. It’s anyone’s guess how many beautiful songs will never be heard over the Clock’s 10 millennial lifespan.
The Clock is real. It is now being built inside a mountain in western Texas. This Clock is the first of many millennial Clocks the designers hope will be built around the world and throughout time. There is a second site for another Clock already purchased at the top of a mountain in eastern Nevada, a site surrounded by a very large grove of 5,000-year-old bristlecone pines. Appropriately, bristlecone pines are among the longest-lived organisms on the planet. The designers of the Clock in Texas expect its chimes will keep ringing twice as long as the oldest 5 millennia-old bristlecone pine. Ten thousand years is about the age of civilization, so a 10K-year Clock would measure out a future of civilization equal to its past. That assumes we are in the middle of whatever journey we are on – an implicit statement of optimism.
What I love about this project is its simultaneous consideration of the the past, present, and future. The project in itself has already produced new technologies. Taking the time to marvel at our past then imagine our future is what allows us to do the good work now. I’m into that.
Leaving a place is never easy. There’s always something that ties you that place. People, usually for me. I have met some extraordinary people in Gainesville, who I miss enormously. Even if we didn’t exactly get to say good-bye. As it turns out I was not a good manager of my last dwindling days. But these good-byes are never permanent.
And so my future lays out ahead. If you had asked me 15 years ago that I’d only be starting my life at 33 years old, I would have thought that pathetic. But it’s the only way it could be. How could we ever really know what we want when were so young, we didn’t know anything. Nothing. I still know nothing, but I know a little more than I did then. And that’s probably good enough to get me through tomorrow.